Thursday, November 8, 2018
Former president Asif Ali Zardari on Thursday said the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government granted ‘NRO’ to the clerics who used derogatory language against key national institutions.
“They gave an NRO just days back. The clerics who used derogatory language were given an NRO,” the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) supremo told reporters in Khairpur while responding to a question regarding government’s earlier statements on the issue of NRO. “Those 1,200 poor people who were captured on TV will be arrested but an NRO was given to those who insulted the institutions,” he said, while referring to an agreement between the government and the protesters who staged sit-ins across the country following a Supreme Court verdict acquitting Asia Bibi in a blasphemy case.
Commenting on the government approaching the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a bailout, Zardari said, “I don’t think we should go to the IMF … we should instead strengthen our markets.” “When we were in the government, we worked hard. We paid people for their land and prepared a feasibility draft for Bhasha Dam,” he said, in response to a question about looming water crisis in the country.
Stating that the people are worried as prices of all the commodities have increased, Zardari said, “When petrol and gas prices are increased, then prices of all goods rise.” Pointing to PPP leader Manzoor Wassan, who was accompanying him, Zardari said, “Wassan has dreamt that the incumbent PTI government will not complete its term.” Regarding the ongoing inquiries by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), Zardari said, “No bureaucrat is ready to work in such circumstances.” Responding to a question about former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, Zardari said, “May be Nawaz and Maryam are waiting for the situation to cool down.”
#Pakistan - Does the govt have a strategy to deal with the threat of violent protests or is it simply in denial? - After the mayhem
PRIME MINISTER Imran Khan, senior cabinet members and the top military leadership huddled on Tuesday in a National Security Committee meeting, and afterwards the Prime Minister’s Office put out a statement claiming that the NSC “concluded that progress and prosperity in Pakistan lies in the peace, stability and rule of law”.
If that reads as an inadequate and incomplete statement in the wake of the state surrender to violent religious extremists, it is. Surely, in his first official and public remarks since returning from China, Prime Minister Khan ought to have directly addressed the events of last week that have significantly damaged his government’s standing and substantially undermined the state’s authority. Indeed, the contrast could not be starker between Mr Khan’s apparent resoluteness in a televised address to the nation on Oct 31, in which the prime minister directly and firmly addressed the protesters, and his unwillingness to even directly refer to the events of last week following the NSC meeting.
Perhaps the NSC decided that for now the state’s strategy to deal with the continuing threat that the protesters and their demands present ought not to be made public. But that presupposes that the government and the state have a strategy at all.
Instead, the PTI government and state institutions could simply be in denial.
At a minimum, the NSC statement ought to have addressed the deep and near-universal public anxiety in the wake of last week’s historic debacle.
The speed with which religious extremists took over the streets and blocked highways across the country and law enforcement was helpless in protecting law-abiding citizens and private property has shaken the country.
From the mainstream media to social media, the sentiments of the public are soaked in anxiety and fear. It is therefore necessary that the centre and state institutions go beyond boilerplate statements and demonstrate their resolve to enforce the law, and quickly move towards dismantling the networks that have become a clear and present danger to state and society.
Since the protesters withdrew from the streets last week, no government official responsible for dealing with the aftermath has made clear that the government is contemplating any kind of action whatsoever against the protest leaders.
It is simply not possible for the state to communicate any kind of seriousness in dealing with such protests if the chief instigators face no consequences for their actions.
By Mohammad Taqi
From two popes to the governor of Punjab Salmaan Taseer, to a Pakistani federal minister Shahbaz Bhatti (a Christian himself), to local and international human rights groups, scores had called for freeing Asia. Taseer and Bhatti were assassinated, while in office, for standing up for Asia’s innocence and demanding clemency for her.
Nine years and much toil and blood later, Asia is finally free. But is she really?
Immediately after the Supreme Court’s verdict was announced, many religio-political parties took to the streets in violent protests against the judgement. The religious hoodlums, majority of them from a Barelvi – a subsect of Sunni Islam – outfit called Tehreek-e-Labbaik-Ya-Rasoolallah (TLYR), which roughly translates to the movement of ‘we are here for you O Prophet’, went on a rampage against public and private property, blocking highways and railroads, and setting fire to bikes and vehicles.
Sections of many major cities in Pakistan looked like a war zone with these thugs roaming free and demanding death to Asia and to the judges who had set her free. The leaders of the TLYR openly called upon their followers and the guards of judges to assassinate them, just like how governor Taseer’s official guard had slain him.
One of the TYLR leaders incited rebellion in the army, calling on officers and cadres to rise against the chief of army staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa, smearing him as Qadyani – a slur word for the Ahmadiyyah sect – and Prime Minister Imran Khan as the “Yahoodi Bacha” – a Jewish quisling – ostensibly a reference to his ex-wife’s Jewish descent.
Khan responded with a televised address, expressing support for the judiciary and calling upon the rabble-rousers to back off and warning that otherwise the state shall respond with its might. In a country that has a long tradition of buckling to the demands of religious fanatics, the prime minister’s relatively firm riposte was widely hailed as the state finally asserting itself.
That optimism lasted less than 24 hours as Khan took off for China a day before his originally scheduled date. He left his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party lieutenants in-charge of handling the melee. The zealots had a field day while the government and its law enforcement machinery were nowhere to be seen.
The PTI entered into a dialogue with the TLYR and came out with a submissive agreement with the fanatics who had been on a rampage. While leaving itself a political and legal wiggle room in the verbiage of the agreement, the PTI agreed to not cause hinderance to a review of the Supreme Court, set free the hooligans arrested in the past several days, and above all, set in motion a legal process to put Asia Bibi’s name on the country’s Exit Control List (ECL) to prevent her from leaving the country.
In return, the TLYR agreed to call off the protests. Instead of laying down the law, the Imran Khan government lost face, capitulated miserably and set yet another dangerous precedence for the future. The religious zealots, on their part, came out more buoyant than before and ready for the next round with their structure, cadres and leadership intact, should the government renege on its end of the bargain.
Most likely Asia Bibi will eventually be allowed to leave Pakistan quietly, after the Supreme Court deals with the legal review – if at all it so chooses. Most legal minds deem that little or no room exists for a review let alone overturning the judgment in the present instance. Asia Bibi’s lawyer Saif-ul-Malook had to leave Pakistan for Netherlands earlier this week due to imminent threats from the religious vigilantes. If and when Asia Bibi leaves, the mullah brigade is more than likely to be out in force and the state will be back to square one. This is not the first time that the Pakistani state has capitulated to the religious fanatics and, in all likelihood, it won’t be the last. The kid-glove handling of these arsonists and goons smacks of state’s impotence in the face of fundamentalists’ ire. While the mullahs were running amok, the omnipresent and verbose Director General of the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) General Asif Ghafoor, who spares no opportunity to respond to elected politicians and even sitting ministers, was also mum and MIA for three days before finally resurfacing with a rather meek statement. Parts of his statement point to the etiology of the morass Pakistan is in. While advising that the army should not be dragged into such matters, General Ghafoor made it a point to call Asia Noreen Bibi as Asia Maseeh i.e. Asia the Christian. In fact, at one point he corrected himself to add the word Maseeh (Christian) to the poor woman’s name. He then professed that no Muslim can tolerate derogatory remarks about the Prophet Muhammad. The man who is known to hound dissenting journalists by putting their names and pictures up in charts at his press conferences, had to qualify his remarks about the mullahs calling for open mutiny in the army, by declaring that there is “no doubt that any Muslim would’ve been hurt (like these mullahs) if someone denigrates the Prophet.”
This was not the first time that General Ghafoor has resorted to religious rhetoric in what could easily have been kept as a circumspect, professional statement. The TLYR had launched a sit-in protest in the twin cities Islamabad-Rawalpindi exactly a year ago in 2017, when the then government and parliament tried to modify an electoral law pertaining to the language of an oath regarding the affirmation of the finality of the Prophet Muhammad. General Ghafoor was asked in a press conference about that and instead of deferring the matter to the civilian government, he took it upon himself to state: “Neither the armed forces have compromised on Namoos-e-Risalat (dignity of the Prophethood) (SAW), nor would they compromise on it in the future [sic]”.
He had gone on to add that “the military and the Muslim Pakistanis are ready to die for the sake of Namoos-e-Risalat”. General Ghafoor’s comments along with the state’s supine posture are nothing short of legitimising the weaponised anti-blasphemy laws and a tacit condoning of religious vigilantism. Where the state should have put down its foot, it opted to offer the check. In theory, the state bought some time and reprieve but in practice, it has emboldened the marauding fanatics. The irony is that the 2017 protests not only had the army’s tacit and open support – a sitting general was seen disbursing money – ostensibly to disperse them, but the COAS had told the then Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PMLN) government that the army won’t act in aid of the civilian power and the issue should be resolved through negotiations. The same mullahs who are calling General Bajwa a heretic who should be overthrown were given a lifeline by him a year ago to help shakedown the PMLN government.
How the establishment egged on religio-political outfits
The Pakistan army had formally launched a programme of “mainstreaming” the jihadist and extremist outfits over a year ago. The DG ISPR had conceded the jihadist outfits Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) et al were being formally inducted into the political process. He had claimed then that the (political PMLN) government was overseeing that process, the fact is that JuD’s political front, the Milli Muslim League was first launched against the PMLN’s candidate and the former first lady, the late Begum Kulsoom Nawaz Sharif, in a by-election. All indications were that the so-called mainstreaming was not a civilian project and was pushed by the army.
In present-day Pakistan, one does not see a political party or a leader with that sense of obligation, vision or will to take the zealotry bull by the horn.
In the July 208 elections, the TYLR fielded its candidates throughout Pakistan and received “at least 2,234,265 of them according to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), making it the fifth largest political party in the country”. It also got two seats in the Punjab provincial assembly. The net effect was that the army’s mainstreaming-the-zealots project was a pyrrhic victory: it chipped away thousands of conservative votes from the former PM Nawaz Sharif’s PMLN, costing it dozens of seats and the government, but left the zealots like TLYR highly ascendant and assertive.
And this essentially has been the story of Pakistan. Both civil and military leadership, for selfish expediency and power politics, kept letting the jihadist and extremist demons out, which eventually get out of their control and have wreaked havoc within and outside Pakistan. Pakistani security establishment has unleashed the jihadists in Kashmir and Afghanistan and propped up sectarian and religio-political outfits by the dozen at home, to prosecute both foreign and domestic policies. The army has used these very same groups to agitate against assorted Pakistani governments, foreign missions and the neighbouring countries, mostly to coerce the civilians into toeing army’s line but also as a scarecrow to shoo away the world powers. The problem is that once enabled and empowered, the zealot outfits broaden their scope of practice beyond the brief given by the army. Just like by sharing monopoly on violence with Salafi-Wahhabi jihadists outside Pakistan, the army paved the way for them to exercise it, at their own whim, within the borders of the country, propping up the Barelvi outfits politically has emboldened them to try to dictate terms to any sitting government and even the judiciary.Pakistani military planners either don’t realise or are willing to discount the fact that the religious outfits, whether overtly jihadist or merely fanatical, have their own very well-defined agenda. It is simply impossible to programme a zealot to do violent jihad or political rioting from nine-to-five and take the weekends off, on army’s caution. The tail eventually does wag the dog, for it has its own well-defined political objectives.
The TYLR’s violent protest has highlighted once again that the industrial strength religiosity inducted into Pakistan’s body politic has taken a massive toll on politics and culture. The gradual erosion of diversity and tolerance that come with diverse opinions have led to an angry and volatile society where the space for religious and political discourse and dissent is getting limited by the day. Appeasing the mullahs started almost with the creation of the country and has continued nonstop.
In 1949, the first prime minister Liaquat Ali Khan introduced in the constituent assembly a guideline for the framers of the constitution, which came to be known as the Objectives Resolution and which essentially laid the foundation for mixing the divine with the temporal in matters of statecraft. Liaquat Ali Khan, when introducing the resolution, had said:
“Islam is not just a matter of private beliefs and conduct. It expects its followers to build up a society for the purpose of good life – as the Greeks would have called it, with this difference, that Islamic ‘good life’ is essentially based upon spiritual values. For the purpose of emphasising these values and to give them validity, it will be necessary for the state to direct and guide the activities of the Muslims in such a manner as to bring about a new social order based upon the essential principles of Islam including the principles of democracy, freedom, tolerance and social justice.”
From then on, it has been a slippery slope on which the objectives resolution snowballed into full-blown Islamisation of the state’s constitution and not just that but ostracising and apostatising, through constitutional amendments, a Muslim sect, the Ahmaddiyyah. That the blasphemy laws were weaponised by the military dictator General Zia-ul-Haq were but a consequence of the warped constitutional template, which that sordid resolution was.
Incidentally, it was an opposition leader Bhupendra Kumar Datta, a Congress leader and member of the first constituent assembly from East Pakistan (Bengal) who had presciently warned of the powder keg the Objectives Resolution would turn out to be. In response to Liaquat Ali Khan’s speech, Datta gave a prophetic replay. He moved that the “paragraph beginning with the words ‘whereas sovereignty over the entire universe and ending with the words ‘is a sacred trust’ be omitted”, saying that such explicit inclusion would inevitably lead to mixing of religion and politics and a potential for abuse.
Datta warned that blending the divine, which may not be critiqued, with temporal politics that flourishes in the face of criticism would act as trap, leading to charges of disrespect and put whatever political actions are taken in the name of religion beyond censure and critique. He said: “Politics belongs to the domain of reason. But as you intermingle it with religion, as this preamble to this nobly conceived resolution does, you pass into the other sphere of faith … on the one hand, you run the risk of subjecting religion to criticism, which will rightly be resented as sacrilegious; on the other hand, so far as the State and State policies are concerned, you cripple reason, curb criticism. Political institutions, particularly modern democratic institutions, as we all know, Sir, grow and progress by criticism from broader to still broader basis.”
Datta had warned:
“Let us not do anything here today that may consign our future generations to the furies of a blind destiny. May be, may God forbid it, but some day, perhaps even within our lifetime, extremely troublous times as we live in a political adventurer, a Yanshikai, or a Bachcha-i-Saka (sic) may find a chance to impose his will and authority on this State. He may find a justification for it in this Preamble.“ Pakistan’s history has showed how farsighted and politically astute Bhupendra Kumar Datta was. He literally foretold the events of the 70 years elapsed since. Not only did military adventurers keep mutilating the constitution by Islamising it according to their whim, but assorted civilians also inducted their own virulent amendments and the superior judiciary kept upholding these poisonous laws.
A hyper-nationalist Pakistani identity, comprising a nebulous ideology, religion, jingoism and the twin delusions of grandiosity and paranoia vis-à-vis the neighbours peddled by the army and its client media, have created a milieu in which challenging draconian regulations such as the blasphemy law is essentially signing one’s own death warrant.
Even the country’s most respected rights watchdog, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, calls for “reforming”, not repealing, the odious blasphemy law. One of Pakistan’s earliest and foremost secular politicians and former prime minister Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy had once written:
“We Moslems (sic) in undivided India were a minority. In Pakistan we are the majority. When we became the majority in a new country we fell heir to the moral obligation of any majority to protect the rights of minorities. Only a majority has the privilege, and I should call it also the obligation, of being magnanimous.”
In present-day Pakistan, one does not see a political party or a leader with that sense of obligation, vision or will to take the zealotry bull by the horn. Absent that, it was certainly prudent for Asia Bibi’s attorney to leave the country and one hopes that she does too, and soon. In fact, one has a sinking feeling that a fully-fledged Schindler’s List is needed for those who dare to dream, dissent and defy the existing viciously obscurantist and brutal order.
Mohammad Taqi is a Pakistani-American columnist; he tweets @mazdaki.